Rigoletto, Opera by G. Verdi
"Absolute power corrupts absolutely" - this thought spread through 19th-century Europe like a wildfire and probably inspired much of the social unrest at the time. Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto illustrates that notion beautifully and poignantly. The opera revolves around the womanising Duke of Mantua whose loose morals have poisoned his court. Driven by insatiable lust, the ruler has dishonoured many noble wives and daughters; the noblemen who dare speak up immediately land in jail.
As the debauchery unfolds, the Duke's hunchback court jester, Rigoletto, mercilessly mocks the victims of his master's lustful ways. His bitter tongue and rude, incisive humour contrast sharply with his love for his only daughter Gilda, whom he painstakingly protects from the corruption of the court. The jester's double standards catch up with him when the Duke, disguised as a poor student, starts wooing Gilda and she naively and hopelessly falls in love with him, even after he reveals his true identity.
Horrified at this development, Rigoletto sets a trap for the Duke with the help of the assassin Sparafucile and his sister Maddalena. Although Gilda sees Mantua flirt with Maddalena, her love does not yield, and when she finds out of Rigoletto's plan to murder the Duke, she tragically sacrifices her own life to save him.
Rigoletto's libretto is based on Victor Hugo's controversial play Le Roi s'amuse which had but one public performance. Seeing the great worth in Hugo's work, Giuseppe Verdi and his favourite librettist Francesco Maria Piave adapted it heavily to get past the censors while still preserving its strong political and moral messages. The premiere on 11 March 1851 at Teatro La Fenice in Venice was an instant success, making Rigoletto one of the Maestro's signature operas.
Musically, Rigoletto is Verdi at his best: catchy, inspired melodies follow one another, and the tensions in the storyline find perfect parallels in the atmospheric orchestration. The Duke's aria ‘La donna e mobile’ is among Verdi's calling cards, but also watch out for the emotion-laden quartet ‘Bella figlia dell' amore’ - a masterful example of simultaneous character development. This season, Verdi's celebrated masterpiece Rigoletto comes to Teatro Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence.